Monday, April 29, 2013

The pregnant woman at the Massacre at St Jean Basco Church on September 11, 1988

On September 11, 1988, a priest was giving a mass in the St Jean Basco Church in the La Saline area of Port-Au-Prince.  Haiti was ruled by a military dictator, Lt General Henri Namphy, who had suspended the constitution and was attacking anyone who called for democratic elections.  Earlier, when the people had attempted elections they were massacred throughout the countryside.

The priest giving the mass that day was Aristede, a man who  spoke out for Haiti's poor through liberation theology. On this day, people were wearing white to call for the return of the constitution.  Namphry warned that people who wore white would be seen as being defiant to his government.  Aristede had been attacked many times before. The people attending the mass knew it was dangerous but their faith and belief led them there to be a a voice for God, human rights and democracy.

On this Sunday morning, Aristede had just begun mass for about 1000 people when government paid "thugs" began to attack.  The army, police and mayor stood by and watched as the parishioners were stoned, killed with machetes and machine gunned.  Attending mass that morning was  a pregnant woman who was stabbed in the stomach.  When she escaped the thugs searched every maternity ward demanding that the women in labor raise their shirts so they could look for the stab wounds and they could finish their work. They never found her.

She was taken to a private doctor and her wounded baby was delivered by c-section. Her mother named her Hope.

While people were being attacked at St Jean Basco Church, the United States was about to elect Ronald Regan to a second term of office.  Although the government officially condemned the attack and called for democratic elections, the fear of communism and Hatien immigrants out weighed my governments firm call for the end of human rights abuses in Haiti.  It is likely that our tax dollars had helped fund the army that stood by and watched as it happened.   The people in the countryside were and are still portrayed as dangerous and out of control when in reality, I have come to see that they were defending themselves and their children from starvation and attacks by roving groups of government hired thugs who killed and frightened the rural poor who wanted democracy and power over their economic future.

Somewhere in Haiti, there is a young 25 year old woman, named Hope who was born on September 11, 1988. Much has changed since her birth.  Jimmy Carter came down and supervised  elections and Aristede, the well loved priest in the church, became president.   I want to believe that Hope got to go to school and that her children, if she had some, are well and  that she tells the them and her grandchildren how their grandmother bravely went to church that morning, even very pregnant , in the hope for a democratic and economically free Haiti; for the baby she carried and for  all of Haiti's children.

I do not know the mother's name, but in my mind, I construct a monument to her.  I watch her and Rosa Parks walking arm and arm down the street, talking about how women, pregnant and all, bring democracy to the world.  It might take awhile but women never stop trying.  They laugh and shake their heads and say it sure takes awhile but things are getting better.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Walking to church with Marie

This morning,  I went to church with Marie.  Marie is the midwife who worked with me all last year, at MamaBaby Haiti.   Marie studied to be a midwife with Midwives for Haiti, located in Henche, and then went to work far from home to support her family.  Marie gave so much to the people of Morne Rogue; helping mothers and befriending volunteers.  And yet. we all knew how much she missed her family and worried about her children.  We watched her cry and remain on the phone all night long when they were sick.  We knew how hard it was to come back after a week with them and yet when she was there she was always attentive to her laboring mothers and new babies.

Last spring, the promise of a new baby finally gave her a reason and a way to be home with her family.
Three months ago, Marie gave birth to a baby girl in the hospital where she trained; her mother at her side who gently ( of course ) squeezed those much cherished dimples into the new baby's cheeks.  it must work because that baby has beautiful dimples!

A year ago, I could not have imagined that I would be walking to church with Marie and her  family.  I could not imagine holding her wet baby as she played with the sunlight coming through the holes in the tin roof. I could not imagine that I would be clapping and singing with her smart, lively daughter who is  a picture of joy in a human being.

As I watch their family, I am reminded that every year, all over the world, mothers are forced to leave their children in the care of others to earn money to send home.  In the world we dream of, mothers like Marie, would never have to make such a choice.  But for now and until that world comes to be. I am happy to see her in her own home, walking to church on a Sunday morning with her family.

In church we all thanked God many times and clapped loudly for all his goodness and I gave a special thank for this one small goodness for this one precious family.

Baby Rose

When I get to the hospital,  a baby is lying on the tile counter and the students are gathered around looking at the tiny form.  Her brain is clearly swollen and has no skull to contain it.  They assume she is dead but I can see that she is alive.  When I pick her up to move her to a table, she cries.  I find blankets and wrap her cold body.  She holds onto my finger with a tight grasp and does not let go.  We all think she will die in an hour or two but it has been two days and she is still alive.  I ask her mother if she wants to visit with her and she says she does but the father is afraid she will faint when she sees her baby and says she can not.  We tell her she is strong and beautiful and she looks at us with a shocked wonder that these white people think her deformed baby is beautiful.

I stay with her for a long time,  keeping her warm and singing any song that comes to my mind.  Everyone wants to see her.  Its like a sideshow of uncomfortable laughs and picture taking.  No one knows what to do with her and most everyone is afraid their baby can catch it from her.

The father says I can name her so I name her Rose as she is so sweet and dear with her small, perfect hand wrapped around my finger.

A pediatrician from Ireland who is working for Partners for Health, tries to find a place for her and in the end, only an adult unit will take her.  She lies on a grown up bed next to a man with a stroke.  When I return, the next day, the mother is sitting outside the hospital waiting to go home as baby Rose continues her struggle to live an impossible short life.

She has a neurotube defect.  We tell the mother that this happens everywhere in the world but the mother only knows Haiti.  Her last baby died of cholera and this is Haiti.  She asks to have her tubes died but the doctor never comes so she gives up and goes home.

Everything I read, says she will die soon and yet each time I pay her a visit there is still the tight grasp of her hand around my finger.  She does not give up on life so easily.  They say she has no working brain and cannot feel anything. She has reflexes and not feelings.   I try to pull the two apart- our feelings and our reflexes and cannot help but wonder if she drifts there above us with a perfect intelligence and a soft, sweet soul that can not yet leave the world.

I have never seen a brain before and yet there her's is; lying on a white sheet glimmering in the morning sun.  It reminds me of the jelly fish washed up on the shore on the Oregon coast.   I cover her brain gently with a soft blanket and concentrate on the perfect hand wrapped around my finger; the wonder that we two should spend this time together.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A baby by the door

The baby by the door

When a young mother has a baby with a birth defect, at the hospital, she does not expect the baby to live and does not want to make the long, hard ride to a larger hospital in Port-Au-Prince.  She, nor her family have any money.  A vising doctor puts in an IV and feeding tube when the mother refuses to nurse her baby.  They say, when the baby is stable they will take it to Port-Au- Prince but the mother, in the night, places the baby outside her door and lets her much loved baby go.  In time, she will collect her few belongings and return to the countryside with her family without her baby.  There will be other times.

There are none amongst us who do not understand.   There are no resources to care for her baby’s on-going health care needs; no schooling or visiting nurses or rights of the disabled.  The mothers say that the ride will be bumpy and painful for the baby and the surgery will be painful too.  In this one, unthinkable but loving act, the mother cares for her baby the very best she can.   

We understand the pain and suffering of so many surgeries for a baby, even in the United States.  People share stories of the difficult lives children have even when there are resources and support.   We grow quiet as we think of this mother; her tiny baby wrapped in a blanket by her door, ready to travel in her heart to a place where angels wait arms open.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Studying to be a midwife in Haiti

During the earthquake, Haiti's only midwifery school was destroyed and the country left with a dire need for trained and skilled midwives to be able to care for the women and babies.  Most of the mothers continue to be cared for by traditional matrones who, however skilled and loving, have no access to diagnostic tools or life saving medicines.  In response to this need, Midwives for Haiti was born; a school for women already having completed two years of nursing school who want to be midwives.  The one year school sends trained midwives out into Haiti's hospitals and small clinics with the skill to prevent, teach and handle many emergencies.  Training programs are needed throughout the country to begin to meet the needs of so many. Here a student midwife practices skin to skin after the birth of a baby.  Typically the baby is swept away and dressed but here I explain the benefit to the baby of a sweet 30 minutes to rest with mom on her chest.  The baby crawled to the mothers breast and shortly began breastfeeding on her own.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Waking up from the zombie curse

Waking up from the zombie curse….

Many people, when they think of Haiti, recall images of zombies rising from a deep, death like sleep to walk on earth in a trance like state.   It has similarities to the many western European fairy tales in which a person is poisoned and drifts into a deep sleep for many years waiting to be woken up, most often by a true love’s kiss.  The person may be locked in a tower, banished to the forest or may be enslaved but always they are in a state of waiting for someone or something to free them.   In real life, both here in Haiti and Europe, people were given poisons, imprisoned unfairly and cast out as refugees looking for new places to live.  They reflected our deepest fear of being powerless and out of control when perhaps the greatest danger might be that we walk on this earth not fully awake or waiting for someone else to save us.

Western fairy tales and the tales of zombies are one way for us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.   In the Jungian way of looking at the Zombie Curse, we are all the people involved.  We are the one giving the potion; the one allowing ourselves to go to sleep and drift into a deep unconscious about what is happening in the world.  We are the person who is acting like the living dead, unaware of the world around us. We are also the one to lift the curse and wake ourselves up.   We are waiting to be woken up, to have the curse lifted and emerge loved and whole. 

Each day we are presented with many anecdotes to the “Zombie Curse”.  We are offered the cool breeze blowing through the window, the smile of children, the cycles of the moon on a dark night, friendships and good conversations.  In Haiti, there are the songs of praise and worship before and after everything we do.   The midwives I am teaching will face untold deaths as a result of poverty in the hours to come, but first they stand in a circle of pink scrubs to sing and pray.  At those times, I pray to protect and be protected and most of all to be awake there, in what seems sometimes a place of the half living; of small eyes peering out to remind us they are there within the body that cries in pain. 

If we read the news, we are shocked, each day out of our zombie sleep.  It is too terrible out there.  If we can; we sleep, eat, shop, watch movies, use drugs – anything to keep us from feeling and knowing what is going on in the world.  We work too much, hide, build walls, spin cocoons; all the while creating our won zombie state while still living in this world.

We are shaken awake by heart breaking events; school shootings, bombs, natural disasters, nuclear disasters, epidemics.   We are exhausted by our grief and if we allow it, it drives us deeper and deeper into the zombie like state of the living dead.   

The gift of understanding both Sleeping Beauty and the Zombie Curse is that we can try each day to stay awake to what is good and beautiful in our world as well as the terrible injustices and the pain that others live within. 

The effects of colonialism, imperialism and unleashed corporate greed have turned sustainable communities into places of extreme poverty and environmental degradation   the result of destroying cultures, ancient market economies and natural resources shakes us awake day after day.  We loose our children through illness, war, and violence and yet we cannot stay awake long enough to look beyond the one event and see the world as a whole. 

 I watch the nuns feeding hundreds of children, housed in iron cribs and I want to crawl under my mosquito net and sleep.   A baby, in the hospital, dies needlessly and I want to collapse.  

In social sustainability, we live, fully aware of our communities and where we get our food and the things we use.  We need never worry that the clothes we are wearing is the cause of another’s suffering; that our inherited wealth has its roots in the slavery and exploitation of a not too distant past.   It asks us to wake up and be present.  It asks us to study and understand history and to know where the things we use and consume come.  Above all, it asks us to make connections so that we don’t sleep though the root causes of hurt and suffering while living with joy in the present moment.

In Haiti, the people cherish their mountainsides.  Each community I have lived in has a special place high on a hill where they gather for prayer and singing and a time to reflect and be quiet.  From there I can join them as they watch sunsets and sunrises and the gentle comings and goings of the countryside.   

It is there that we pray to be protected from the” Zombie Curse” and ask that we have the strength, determination and bravery to wake ourselves up in time to live life fully and simply.   We pray that we do not need violence to be woken up and that we will try, each day better than the one before, to shed this curse and live with gratitude for all that we’ve been given.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Midwives for Haiti - Spring 2013

 It is April and I am in Haiti.  I have decided to work with Midwives for Haiti; an organization that trains Hatien midwives, provides prenatal care in mobile clinics and works with local matrones to increase the safety of the births they attend.  This work combines three of my great loves; education, community and birth.

I come to Haiti in the midst of considerable thought about social sustainability; that is how a community creates a good and healthy life for its people both now and for future generations; knowing that it requires these things for all people in order for it to exist for anyone.

Here in Haiti, I have come to find the deep interconnection between my country's history, with all its wealth and the deaths of mothers and baby's in this country.  I have heard well meaning people comment that perhaps they have too many babies anyway and so it does not matter so much.  In healthy sustainable communities people plan how many children they have with reasonable reassurance that this child and the child's mother will live.  They know that baby will be offered a free education and will be given the health care needed for a productive life.  The parents in Haiti want this as much as anyone.  It is the song within a mother as she caries her child.  Always when the baby first opens it's eyes for the first time, the mother has hope.

If one fourth of all the children in your community do not live to be five years of age, you do not meet the most basic elements of a healthy, good life. And yet in Haiti we see many, many ways of living day to day life that are at the heart of healthy, sustainable happy lives.

In my time here, I hope to reflect on how the lessons of motherhood and birth are passed down through informal and formal systems of sustainability; how a country shaken with disaster and poverty maintains that which we in the United Sates struggle to hold onto and try to imitate.  I hope to share stories that illustrate the best of how people create goodness for now and future generations.